Review: Watson’s Afghan Adventure by Kieran McMullen
[Afghanistan: bleak theater of war.]
Writer, soldier and Watson enthusiast - Kieran McMullen is ideally positioned to speculate on the life and times of Dr. John H. Watson, late of the Army Medical Department. It’s no surprise that Mr. McMullen focuses on Watson’s life from the moment he enlisted as an Army surgeon to his recovery from a (multiple?) Jezail bullet wound(s), topped off with a particularly nasty case of ‘enteric fever‘ forcing the still young Watson into an early retirement - and into the orbit of a young Sherlock Holmes.
[Click to enlarge - Where’s Watson?]
For those familiar with G. A. Henty’s impressive corpus of historical fiction, and in particular his 1886 work For Name and Fame: or, Through Afghan Passes, the pacing and descriptive imagery of Afghan Adventure will feel familiar. Watson, finding himself smack in the middle of the Battle of Maiwand (July 27, 1880) writes:
“The first rounds of cannon fire from the smoothbores were sent at a range of about 1800 yards. It was now, when I saw the trees move, that I realized it wasn’t a forest on the distant hills, it was thousands of men! I’m ashamed to say that for a moment, a sense of panic set in…[t]he horde of Afghan infantry was moving to our right as our guns played on them and their cavalry was feeling to our left. A shell burst within a few hundred yards of me, I was no longer a spectator on a great stage. I was a target and the 30 cannons of Ayub’s artillery were coming into action.” (p. 172)
Entertainingly weaved throughout the historical context of what came to be called The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878 - 1880) are a number of characters either familiar (e.g. Watson’s orderly and literal life saver Murray), historical (e.g. General George Burrows) or fictionalized composites. These are (or could have been) the characters that populated Watson’s world before 221B came to dominate his life.
[The Jezail was a style of musket common in Muslim lands.]
McMullen wisely uses this mostly believable tapestry of historical battles, personal relationships and (rather) anemic treasure hunts to explore Watson’s early moral and psychological development. In the spirit of Michael Hardwick’s excellent The Private Life of Dr. Watson, McMullen endows Watson with all those virtues (and quasi-vices) we’ve come to know and love, sometimes in embryonic form so to get a glimpse of how certain ‘Watsonian qualities’ emerged and eventually asserted themselves: justice, gregariousness, chivalry, gambling, honor, duty, bravery, the love of women, adventurer, etc.
[I still love this cover art.]
Overall, McMullen’s Watson’s Afghan Adventure is a fun, speculative romp which backs-up it’s creative leaps with a fair amount of canonical and historical fact. It’s an example of ‘The Game’ well played providing both entertainment as well as adding insight and depth to a character whose psychological make-up and biography often play second stradivarius to Sherlock Holmes.